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Referendum falls far short of validity

There were no lines of eager citizens waiting to cast their ballots at the Jesenského Street polling centre in Bratislava. Given the chance to vote in a referendum on early national elections on November 11, fully four out of five eligible voters decided not to participate, rendering the referendum results invalid and giving poll monitors little to do besides chat with colleagues and read newspapers.
Organised by the biggest opposition party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the referendum fell far short of the 50% turnout required to make the results valid. Indeed, only 20.03% (818,480 of the country's 4,085,172 voters) attended the plebiscite.


With only 20% of the voting population participating in the November 11 referendum, polling monitors were left with little to do.
photo. TASR

There were no lines of eager citizens waiting to cast their ballots at the Jesenského Street polling centre in Bratislava. Given the chance to vote in a referendum on early national elections on November 11, fully four out of five eligible voters decided not to participate, rendering the referendum results invalid and giving poll monitors little to do besides chat with colleagues and read newspapers.

Organised by the biggest opposition party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the referendum fell far short of the 50% turnout required to make the results valid. Indeed, only 20.03% (818,480 of the country's 4,085,172 voters) attended the plebiscite. Of those who did vote, 4.8% opposed early elections, while 92.74% were in favour.

Members of the current government said the results confirmed the people's will that the ruling coalition see out the remaining two years of its four-year term. They also said it showed the country's overwhelming resolve to refuse HZDS leader and three-time Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar a return to power.

"The results of the referendum show that voters understood the point of this referendum, who the man was [behind it], and what he had to offer," said Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) head Béla Bugár.

HZDS representatives, meanwhile, admitted that the low turnout had been a "surprise", but added that potential voters had been reluctant to attend due to harassment, threats, and government manipulation.

HZDS spokesman Igor Žvach charged the Interior Ministry and municipal governments with ignoring referendum preparations, leaving "tens of thousands of voters [with] no idea where the polling stations were."

Jozef Božik, HZDS vice-chairman for media, alleged that business owners had threatened employees, saying that they would be fired if they participated in the balloting. He added that the HZDS was disappointed in Slovak citizens and that those who failed to vote could no longer expect the party to save them.

"The HZDS has done its best to help Slovakia by organising the referendum," Božik said. "Now it's the people themselves, especially those who ignored the vote, who should take responsibility for the development of this country."

The low turnout was a surprise to those both for and against the referendum; polls, analysts, and government officials had all predicted a voter turnout somewhere between 30% and 40%. But despite Mečiar's prediction after he cast his vote that the results would be as close as the recent US presidential elections, not one of Slovakia's 78 electoral districts achieved the required 50% turnout, the closest being northern Slovakia's Kysucké Nové Mesto district with a 46.23% turnout.

Ruling coalition leaders reacted to the resounding referendum defeat by saying that they understood the citizens had voted against Mečiar and not for the coalition. "The results were a call for the governing coalition to be more cohesive and unified and to implement its manifesto," said Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.

Jozef Migaš, the head of the reformed communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), added that the decision of the majority of Slovaks not to attend the referendum was a "clear signal that Slovaks want the country to become a part of the EU, and that there is political stability in Slovakia".

European MP Hans Peter Martin welcomed referendum results as well. Speaking to Slovak media on November 12, he said that the failure of the HZDS initiated referendum was a great relief for other European democracies.

Mečiar, for his part, refused to participate in a roundtable discussion on the state-run Slovak Television following the referendum with the leaders of all other major political parties. Božik said his boss was "relaxing after the referendum and dedicating his time to more important political work [than defending the legitimacy of the referendum], because there are many things the HZDS has to work on, like preparing a more constructive government alternative for future general elections".

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